On Saturday, September 15 a group of sailors will assemble on the south side of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands at Hodges Creek Marina to embark on a sailing vacation. Sounds pretty commonplace, right? The BVI is a chartering mecca and sun-seeking sailors come and go here all time, so why would this group be newsworthy? Well, one aspect distinguishes this crowd. The 100 some participants stowing their gear aboard the Stardust Yacht Charters fleet that day will all be African Americans; all participants in the fourth edition of the Black Boaters Summit.
The BBS, the brainchild of travel agent-entrepreneur Paul Mixon, began in 1998 with just eight attendees, but Mixon has fostered exponential growth for his event in only a few short years. Those impressive statistics, says the events founder, are in part a simple indication of how many African Americans are involved in the sport of sailing. Mixon himself has been a sailor for 30 years. "I was always the only black person on the scene," he explains, "but I knew that black people are adventurous; well try just about anything once weve been introduced or are taught how."
The statistics from his own event appear to bear that out. "Last year," says Mixon, "we had 80 people involved. Whats pretty impressive is that 75 percent of them were sailors."
Mixon says he formed his travel agency (Honey Lets Travel) seven years ago to create what he calls a vehicle for introducing African Americans to the sport of skiing. Three years ago, he says, Stardust Yacht Charters approached him with a request to help them market sailboat chartering vacations to the African American community. "My market just happens to be upscale African Americans," explains Mixon. "There are a number of reasons why there arent more blacks involved in the sport of sailing. One of those reasons is that folks in the industry dont have a clue about how to market to black folks
.What appeals to white people doesnt necessarily appeal to black people. A different approach or strategy is often necessary to reach our group."
Mixon says that statistics indicate that African Americans are traveling 16 percent more than the general population and currently represent approximately $540 billion dollars in annual income. "It just makes good business sense to market to this group of people."
When the people at Stardust Yacht Charters came to him with their request, Mixon says he realized that it was really a golden opportunity. "I knew that I could easily accomplish that task because I love to sail
.I mean the decision was an easy one
it was also an opportunity to share my joy of sailing with more of my friends and family. I invited a dozen friends to join me sailing in the BVI aboard a Stardust boat and everybody had such a good time that the next yearwhen we founded the BBSour numbers more than quadrupled!"
Despite its business-like label, the BBS, says Mixon, is truly more fun than function, more cavorting than conferencing. The primary goal," says the man who signs his correspondence "Capn Paul," "is to have a fun event annually in the BVI."
The BBS, explains Mixon, "is a refresher course on how to have fun. Being able to enjoy the beauty and tranquility and the crystal blue waters refreshes the mind, body, and spirit
The captains teach the crew rudimentary sailing techniques and learn-to-sail classes are offered to the non-sailors by one of the local sailing schools."
Last year the participants enjoyed a seven-day voyage that took the flotilla to many of the BVIs highlights like The Baths on Virgin Gorda, Virgin Gorda Sound, and the Bight at Norman Island. At each overnight location, Mixon and his co-organizers arranged for entertainment that spanned the spectrum from limbo contests to rousing speeches by regional dignitaries and even and address by Bill Pinkney, the first African American to sail single-handedly around the globe alone. "The sea is the only place where it's doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, black or white," counseled Pinkney. "The only thing the sea cares about is whether you are prepared."
This time around, Mixon has almost 100 "liveaboard participants" signed up for his event. He uses that phrasing, he says, because about half of the crew are first-timers or non-sailors. But that disposition doesnt preclude these folks from enjoying the life on board. "Traditionally," explains Mixon, "black folks havent been exposed to boating, even those who live near bodies of water. A lot of black folks dont know how to swim and some have a fear of deep water. Safety is a major concern. BBS is an event where people can relax, unwind, and get comfortable
.The opportunity to see other black men and women swimming, snorkeling, sailing, and scuba diving is very reassuring. It makes folks think if they can do it, I can too. The old timers are very supportive and eager to help teach the newcomers, so a real spirit of camaraderie and trust develops. Youd be amazed to see how many people who didnt even know how to swim end up snorkeling."
As far as he knows, Mixon says that hes the only one in the world doing this. "I love the BVI and I love sailing. I also love watching peoples eyes light up when I tell them to take the wheel while I go below to get a beer, and it sure beats working for a living." He says that the future is bright for his event. "Id like to see it become one of the biggest international vacation events for African Americans
Within the next five years Id like for the industrythe NMMA, Sail America, US SAILING, ASA, the charter industry, and all of the various boating industry publicationsrecognize me as the go-to guy when it comes to black boaters. The sailing industry tells us that the greatest crossover in any sport is between sailing and skiing. Guess which group is the fastest growing segment in skiing? Thats right, African Americans. So the BBS is good for the boating industry, its good for business, and its good for America." Enough said.
For more information about the Black Boaters Summit, log on to the events website (www.honeyletstravel.com/bbs/), or call the organizers at (206) 768-0070.
Among the Notables
Most sailors would be hard-pressed to name one African American sailor, but there are a few black mariners whose successful exploits on the water have made them high-profile practitioners in the sport. Among them are the following:
Captain Bill Pinkney After becoming the first African American to circumnavigate the globe, which he did in 1991 aboard a 40-foot sloop, this former cosmetics industry executive hit the lecture circuit, taking his message of determination and perseverance to would-be adventurers and sailors around the US. Not long after he was selected to captain the replica of the 19th century slave ship Amistad, publicized in Steven Spielbergs movie by the same name. Pinkney now guides the Amistad through a demanding schedule visiting ports around the US to teach the lessons of history, cooperation, and leadership inherent in the Amistad incident and its legacy through the ownership, educational programming, and operation of the vessel.
Frank Savage Based in Stamford, CT, Frank Savage has made a name for himself on the racecourses around Long Island Sound by racing his Swan 56 Lolita to some impressive finishes over the past several years. In this summers Swan American Regatta in Newport, RI, Savage and his team trounced the competition to win the overall honors in this prestigious event.
Art Price Formerly a pro football player with the Atlanta Falcons, Price was a one-time grinder aboard America3 in the 1995 Americas Cup. Price, who is now a fireman in Wisconsin, got into the sport after college. His Americas Cup experience has led to a steady role racing internationally aboard Irving Laidlaws string of boats named Highland Fling.
Marty Stephan Another former member of the America3 team, Stephan is a lifelong sailor who now coaches high school sailing in Massachussets and teaches business.
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